The Garret Tree
Sunday, November 21, 2004
Writing Nov. 14 to Nov. 21

Steady work week. As part of the rewrite of the first third of the book, the aim at this point is to get all 70 days of the Japanese assault on Malaya and Singapore into one chapter. About 2500 words of the chapter done. I am concentrating on those units that later became part of F Force, so the chapter will be a mosaic snapshot.

Part of my post to Writer-L on November 18

Technorati says it is currently tracking 4,653,516 blogs,
far too many for anyone to handle and most of them are likely not
all that interesting.

On the other hand, both blogging and linking are part of
the new networked and pass around culture and aren't going to go away, even if people have found ways to spam-link to Google. The whole situation is evolving.

Steve Rubel had some more comments on the Long Tail this week:

Sorting Out the Long Tail

How to Pitch into the Long News Curve
While this article is aimed at Rubel's target PR audience, it should be required reading for assignment editors, who need to understand how news will emerge from blogs and how corporations will use blogs to get their message out.

November 14, 2004 4:27 p.m.

The Long Tail and marketing your book

A slightly edited version of my posting to Writer-L on book marketing. I've changed specific references to other posts to more generic ones.

The three month rule is dead! Long live Amazon!

In my postings on Writer-L I have always been skeptical of the idea that a book has a shelf life of just three months.

Now there appears to be proof in an article called The Long Tail, that appeared in the October 2004 issue of Wired. For an author, I am going to say that "The Long Tail" is the most important article you will read this year.

Wired editor Chris Anderson tells the story of a book called Touching the Void: The True Story of One Man's Miraculous Survival
that was published to little notice and was languishing in the Random House warehouse. Then Into Thin Air became a bestseller AND Touching the Void — a similar story from the Peruvian Andes, began appearing on two of Amazon's entries, the individual recommendations and the screen that comes up saying "people who bought this book also bought...."

According to Anderson, it was those links that rocketed Touching the Void on to the New York Times paperback bestseller list and forced Random House to do a fast reprint.

Anderson calls the article the long tail because he compares it with a comet, the tail has more mass than the head. The head is what Anderson calls "the tyranny of lowest-common-denominator fare...brain dead summer blockbusters."

According to Anderson half of Amazon's sales come from outside of the top 130,000 titles —probably the kind of books most people on Writer-L write — and read.

He quotes a music industry venture capitalist named Kevin Laws as saying: "The biggest money is in the smallest sales."
So how does this work? Part of the rest of this post is based on a talk that Clive Thompson, (who runs the "collision detection" blog) gave to our annual conference at and some of my own ideas.

As most people know, Google ranks sites by the number of links to a site. The more links to your site, the higher it appears on the Google page when you do a search. The same thing is happening with blogs, where sites or other blogs link to one blog, it appears higher on blog indexes.

For another view of what of this go to the blog search engine, Technorati and click on the Book Talk see what books bloggers are talking about. For example, within hours of the reports of the death of Iris Chang, The Rape of Nanking (with links to Amazon from some blogs) appeared high on the Technorati Booktalk page. That is clearly the antidote to the refusal of publishers to react when an author is in the news--if, of course, the bloggers pick up on the interest in the author and the book. (Note Booktalk is in beta and sometimes disappears from the Technorati site).

You should also join Technorati. The news tab will tell you what news stories are being talked about right now (and as I write this on Friday night, it is not just Scott Peterson, it is actually quite serious, the Middle East and U.S. Supreme Court — another example of The Long Tail.) Use the Technorati search engine to keep up on the subjects you research and write about. And subscribe to blogs and RSS feeds (most major news organizations now have them) on your subjects.

The model is music. Remember Napster? And the fact that many of the people who used Napster and now use file sharing are not kids but older adults who couldn't get the music they wanted, old jazz, for example. Now, according to the Anderson article, the niche market accounts of significant amounts of the sales of the now-legitimate, paid download sites.

Anderson also predicts that in the 21st century, to be profitable, a media company will need both ends, the head, the blockbusters, and the tail, which for writers, could I believe, bring the rebirth of the mid-list book.

It appears to me that even though Random House had a hit in Touching the Void the publishers are still following the old model, stuck in the mode of the three-month shelf life.

Another, this time from Clive's talk, is the reason E-books failed. The publishers were using the old model, by restricting how the reader could use an E-book.

That means to me that the printed book, going back to Gutenberg, were the first examples of pass around culture. If you know you'll get them back you can lend books to friends. The publishers were thinking about the software model (which doesn't work very well anyway).

So if an author is going to promote his/her book, forget that useless ad in The New York Times book review and get yourself blogged and blog yourself (it doesn't have to be every day). After I heard Clive's talk, I have already made a start on this blog on my site. At the moment it's really an html diary but I will upgrade to full blog software once I have finished my current book.

The lesson is to do everything you can yourself, e-mail lists, your own website, your own blog. Link to sites and people you like and let them know, so they link back, if they wish. Then it all depends if your subject is of interest to enough people, then it will start appearing on Amazon's links.

And The Long Tail also proves one more thing, that the idea Jon and Lynn had a few years ago about micropayments was essentially correct, but before its time. Anderson's rule number two for the 21st century "Cut the price in half, now lower it." It is working for Apple's Itunes that sells single tracks for $.99.

Long Tail blogs

  • Steve Rubel's The Long Tail of Blogsphere on a site dedicated to news, public relations and blogging is well worth looking at.

  • The Long Tail
  • A new blog inspired by the article.
  • Kathleen Gilgroy's comments on The Long Tail Note:her other posts on "mircrofinancing" are also worth reading.

  • Canadians:
  • The Rape of Nanking from Amazon. ca
  • Touching the Void from Amazon. ca

    Links to this post
    Saturday, November 13, 2004
    Sonkrai Writing Nov. 7 to Nov. 13

    I wanted to keep a blog/diary on how the book is going, but decided not to start until the first very rough draft was complete.

    So for this first week:

    Was at a conference, Sunday, Monday and Tuesday. Thursday and Friday off to recharge brain batteries after special projects at work for U.S. election and the 60th anniversary of the Second World War Italian campaign. So got some work, not much done, on the revisons.

    The serendipity coincidence connection came through this week. The family of a U.S. Marine who was in Changi Jail in Sinapore are sending me excerpts from his diary. And it turns out that one of the heroes in this book, Lt. Col. Andy Dillon, of the British Indian Army, the man who helped keep many alive in the jungles of Thailand, became the protector of the few Americans in Changi.
    Also the Imperial War Museum has found some drawings, stored away and not seen in decades and so I hope to use some of them in the book.

    Iris Chang
    November 12, 2004 12:18 a.m.

    I found out late tonight that Iris Chang, author of The Rape of Nanking had been found dead in California of an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound. You can read the story.

    November 11 was what I call a do-nothing day, when I recharge my brain batteries, so I wasn't checking the news as much as I would normally. So I actually found out about this story from the Boing Boing blog.

    There are already blogspace rumours that Chang may not have committed suicide, but that is clearly a bit of net-conspiracy-paranoia.

    I can't see any motive that would connect to her work on the Bataan Death March; work that I know from personal experience can be incredibly depressing and energy draining.

    Since I have been working on my own book on prisoners of war for the past four years, not to mention having lived with the family burden of being the son of POW on the River Kwai, I know that this work can bring on depression that can sometimes be overwhelming. It is not only listening to what those men went through, but also reading the filing cabinets full of the documents I have collected over the past few years, documents that not only show the absolute cruelty of those dehumanizing years, but how incompetence, petty political jealousy, bad planning and willful ignorance made everything worse on the infamous Burma Thailand Railway of Death where thousands died.

    Here I must note something that has not been said in the news stories on Iris Chang. The evidence at the Tokyo War Crimes trial from 1946 to 1948, showed the Japan declared anyone fighting their occupation of China to be a bandit, an "unlawful combatant." Japan told the world that it would follow the Geneva Convention, even though it had not ratified it, and then totally disregarded it.

    And now the man who told the United States it could disregard the Geneva Convention, Alberto Gonzales, is nominated to be the next Attorney General of the United States.

    The death of Iris Chang is a great loss to history and literature, and, though I am not religious, I must say, may she rest in peace.

    Update: November 13. The American Mind Blog also comments on the overwhelming nature of this type of work.


  • The Rape of Nanking from

    Links to this post
    Monday, November 01, 2004

    Marketing your book
    October 18,2004

    A slightly edited version of my posting to Writer-L on book marketing. I've changed specific references to other posts to more generic ones.

    Marketing on your own is becoming more and more essential these days, especially if you want to be in this racket for a career. It doesn't matter whether you're published by a mainstream publisher, a small house or do it yourself.

    Why? Because these days the sales and marketing people in most major publishers are bean counters whose job consists mainly of selling to fellow bean counters at chains and big box stores — and not the "end user" the reader..

    When a new book proposal comes in they often check the sales of the previous book and often make their decision on these figures. So if for whatever reason the author's previous book did not do well, then often sales and marketing will say the next one won't do well either. Imagine if a major league baseball team fired a pitcher after one bad game where he's pulled after three innings when the guy perhaps could pitch a perfect game the next time.

    That's why doing everything possible to self promote and market is crucial.

    If your book fails, the publisher's marketing division will blame the author, if it succeeds it will be because of the publisher's brilliant marketing.

    As I have said on Writer-L before, I've been a network TV news producer for 18 years and have seen this from both sides. All I can say is that most PR people-- government, military or corporate-- are a lot more competent than any I have ever dealt with from the book publishing side either as a producer or an author.

    It seems that these days the publishing is completely tied to their own cycle and the myth that a book's shelf life is limited to three months (it's come a long way from the time when profits came from a backlist)

    Thus the publishers, (and distributors and big bookstores) seem to have no procedures to react when a book or author becomes news...and can't react if he appears on the Today show. It's quite often the publicists don't want to help the chase producer/booker when he/she calls when suddenly an author becomes newsworthy. The publicists are too busy with their current assignment. On the other hand, as I am sure most people on the list know, a professional PR person in other fields can, (unless they want to stall) get back to you by deadline.

    Why is it that marketing people in other fields like electronics can get a product into stores when it becomes hot and book publishers often can't?

    The good thing is that we have Amazon and its competitors.

    The most obvious problem is that book publishers don't target their marketing to the potential audience, whether it is a geographical location, a demographic or an interest group. Instead they flood the media with books that are never reviewed or used for news items (and where I work end up in a huge charity Christmas sale). That's why authors are right to go to conventions and spread the word.

    My knowledge of niche book marketing comes from the science fiction and fantasy field but I can also say that the same techniques are used in romance (and demonstrated by Writer-L member David Hayes in great magazine article in The Globe and Mail Report on Business Magazine recently on how Harlequin does it).

    I am pretty sure a narrative author can identify the core market for a non fiction book and use some of these SF/romance techniques to spread word of mouth.

    Here are my cheap targeted marketing tips

    1. Create a website and make sure you register your own domain name, whether it is your name or the name of the book. You've probably been told to mention the name of the book in an interview, also mention the website. This could really be valuable if there is interest in your book after the "three month" shelf life.
    2. Have an e-mail address on the site that is tied to the title of the book. Then use a filter to put those e-mails into one folder. That will give you a name and e-mail address of someone interested in the book and perhaps future books as well.

    3. I am also pretty good with Photo Shop so I converted the cover of my last book to a black and white image which I then had printed as a business card (with additional info like the ISBN number) so I could hand that to people I met that expressed interest in the work.

    4. As soon as the cover is available either from the publisher or posted on Amazon as "forthcoming" (click on the larger image) a number of my SF author friends then have a post card printed with the cover on one side and a blurb, ISBN number and author's website on the other. The postcard can either be mailed out or taken with you to meetings, conventions etc. This is a bit more expensive than business cards but could be well worth it.

    5. If you can afford it, attend a convention Find out if a local bookstore has a booth and let them know about your book.
      If you have plenty of time try to persuade the publisher to put an ad in the program book, if there is one, it is likely to be cheaper and more effective than an ad on weekend book page. It's amazing to me that the same publishers will take out big ads in program books for even small SF conventions and not to do it for other conventions for other groups where there are sometimes tens of thousands of attendees. When you go have lots of business cards or postcards to give away.

    6. Create targeted e-mailing lists. This is not spam if is handled properly. On the recommendation of some of my SF author friends I have purchased a copy of G-Lock Easy Mail.
      The paid version allows you to create multiple lists and customize each one and as much as possible vary the message to the people who you are targeting. By the time I know the publication date for my next book I will have created five different lists, each slightly different, for example people who helped with the research and people who wrote to say they liked my last book and will send them a brief message about the publication, with a link to my website. Hints from my SF author friends are keep it brief and friendly and make sure the subject line is specific as possible to avoid spam blockers.

    Note: About web sites. Spammers have a new tactic of sending multiple messages with randomly generated names to the website URL so they could send a message to a mail box that doesn't exist. That means managing your website mail is an increasingly bigger task.

    On the other hand if you set up and run the log analyzer available from your hosting company, you will see where people are coming from to your site and that will often lead to new places where you get contacts to let them know when your new book is coming out or available.

    Links to this post
    Sonkrai Writing up until the point I started the sorta-blog
    Links to this post
    I write in a renovated garret in my house in a part of Toronto, Canada, called "The Pocket." The blog is named for a tree can be seen outside the window of my garret.

    My Photo
    Name: Robin Rowland
    Location: Toronto, Canada

    I'm a Toronto-based writer, photographer, web producer, television producer, journalist and teacher. I'm author of five books, the latest A River Kwai Story: The Sonkrai Tribunal. The Garret tree is my blog on the writing life including my progress on my next book (which will be announced here some time in the coming months) My second blog, the Wampo, Nieke and Sonkrai follows the slow progress of my freelanced model railway based on my research on the Burma Thailand Railway (which is why it isn't updated that often) The Creative Guide to Research, based on my book published in 2000 is basically an archive of news, information and hints for both the online and the shoe-leather" researcher. (Google has taken over everything but there are still good hints there)

    New blogs as of Sept. 2009
    Robin's Weir
    Tao of News

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      A River Kwai Story
      A River Kwai Story
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